Something I have often heard is that Christians should approach their work like a mission field. Christians, whether they are educators or bankers or lawyers, should all be like missionaries in their work. Moreover, the way they should measure their success in their vocations is through the impact of their missionary efforts quantified by the number of people they have “won to Christ”. Now, in general I don’t have too much of an issue with this perspective so far as evangelism goes. However, I do find it wanting in a couple key areas.At its core, this viewpoint breaks reality down into two categories: 1) sacred & 2) secular. The outcome of this false dichotomy is that Christians who find themselves in the “secular” category for their vocation must look to squeeze in the sacred somehow by evangelistic efforts in their workplace.
Now, as I’ve already said, I have nothing against evangelism in the workplace. But, I do believe that this view creates many more problems than solutions.
Here’s what I mean.
This view assumes that “secular” vocations are “secular” to their core. It sees things like: education, politics, commerce, law, finance, etc as necessary effects of sinful human civilization. In short, the life and world we inhabit is a “necessary evil”. The Christians stance then becomes to save as many “souls” as possible while the evil world grows around them. (For those of you who are interested this is called Gnosticism)
This view of vocation does not take into account the Biblical/Creational model of life. In the creation narrative God places Adam in Eden and gives him access to the Garden. We are told that there are rivers flowing out of Eden into lands where precious minerals are plentiful. Adam is told to work in the Garden. Further, Adam is commissioned to multiply his descendants and to fill the earth.
Working out the implications of the creation narrative one can surmise that Adam was not to stay put in the Garden but was instead to follow the rivers south in order to find precious stones in new lands. Not only that but it could be assumed that, had Adam not sinned, his descendants would have found new dwelling places outside of Eden where trade and commerce would have commenced between the descendants of Adam.
The vision of God’s creational pattern in the early chapters of the Bible does not see activities such as commerce, pioneering, & husbandry as necessary evils but instead as central to the good life that he had created man to lead.
At this point it must be noted that the entrance of sin into the world has had a horrible affect on all of these areas of life. But, just like Man, they have been corrupted but not destroyed.
The view that sees “secular” vocation simply as a mission field has essentially given up on God’s redemptive purposes for everything except the “soul” of man. While individual “souls” are vital to God’s redemptive plan it does not stop there. God plans for the entire world to be redeemed and this means vocations such as education, banking, trade, & law.
What this means is that Christians should no longer accept the old adage that the Bible doesn’t present a “Christian” way of: education, banking, commerce, etc. Yes it does! The Bible clearly presents standards by which we are to live our lives and build our societies that are “Christian”. The Bible says that theft is a sin and therefore that should hold sway on the way we do banking. The Bible says that lying is a sin and therefore should hold sway on the way we do education. The Bible says that God hates unjust weights and unjust measures and therefore that should hold sway on the way we do commerce.
Much of American Christianity is “compartmentalized”. We see a large disconnect between the redemptive work in the life of an individual and the redemption of the larger culture. I believe this is in large part due to a poor eschatology which sees the world going to Hell in a handbasket after the Christians are raptured. If this is true then why not just worry about individual souls and leave the wider culture to crumble in the sin of secularism. But if this eschatology is not true then perhaps we should change our understanding of work and vocation from a missionary field of individuals to a missionary field that takes into account the whole scope of God’s redemptive purposes, including individuals.
Food for thought.